Flying fox Vineyards
A Small Family Winery Proves Less is More
By: Chris Campanelli
Owners: Rich Evans and Lynn Davis
Winemaker: Emily Hodson
Year Established: 1999
When Flying Fox vineyard describes itself as a “small, family-owned winery” they mean it. Planting their first vines in 1999, they keep only six and a half acres of red grapes and produce only 1,400 cases per year, which makes them perhaps the smallest operation on the Nelson County wine trail.
And when they say they want to “make the most honest wine possible from the very best grapes,” they mean that, too. Their approach is to manage their vines for low yield and high fruit intensity, which emphasizes quality over quantity. In these few short years, that quality has already begun to be recognized. In just their second vintage in 2006, they won Silver, Gold, and Double Gold medals for their Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
Considering their refined approach and quick success, it may come as a shock that this whole operation is a post-retirement endeavor for owners Rich Evans and Lynn Davis. Both had long careers connected to the University of Virginia hospital and academic community, and initially approached winemaking as a casual hobby. But just as the particular characteristics of the soil, climate, and weather patterns of a region lead to unique strengths in the terroir, so the particular passions and vocational experiences of Rich and Lynn have been essential in developing their own unique method of making great wines.
Rich grew up in Minnesota, where his father worked as a corn geneticist. This sparked a lifelong interest in both science and farming. Drawn initially more by the science side of that upbringing, Rich pursued a career in medicine, most of which was spent as an emergency room physician at Augusta Medical Center. Lynn also grew up in Minnesota, and got her PhD in anatomy before going on to teach biology at the University of Virginia.
This combined experience of science, biology, agriculture, and what the tasting room supervisor Carol calls Rich’s “impeccable palate,” makes it apparent why they adapted so easily to this highly specialized craft.
The tasting room is just off of VA route 151, commonly known as the Virginia wine trail. In colder months there’s a stone hearth with a fire going on the left, and across the front is a beautiful old wooden table that spent a former life in a Nelson County general store. The walls are covered with warm-hued mountain and river paintings done by local painter Betty Arehart. With a maximum occupancy of fourteen, the setting is best described as cozy.
Guests enjoy trying all of the wines, including many award winning ones. Flying Fox ages each of their red wines from 22 to 24 months in oak barrels. They have focused their energy on refining very typical styles for Virginia: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Trio (a Meritage style blend), and Petit Verdot. After savoring the taste of each of these, you might be lucky enough to try a mulled version of their Fox Red table wine, heated and enlivened with spices and honey.
Flying Fox has recently ventured into making white wines after Lynn convinced her sister Jane Ziemann and her husband John to grow vines on their property near Stuart’s Draft. In January 2012 they had just bottled their first vintage of Viognier, a grape known as one of the finest fits for the Virginia terroir.
The other member of the team is already part of the fabric of Virginia wine country. Emily Hodson is the daughter of the owners of Veritas Vineyards and works side by side with Rich and Lynn. The winemaking process is housed in the Veritas facilities as the acres of Flying Fox’s red wine grapes are also leased from the Veritas property. And though these are distinctly separate entities, they do have a very symbiotic relationship.
Rich and Lynn will be the first to tell you that there are many wonderful vineyards throughout Virginia. But for a unique corner of that trail where each wine is meticulously tended and served to a lucky limited few, Flying Fox has something special to offer. Judging by the quality of their wines and the passion of its owners, this is only the beginning.